The attractive canework used to create woven chair panels is extremely hardwearing, but it can deteriorate badly with time. There is little you can do to repair a split and broken seat, but you can re-cane the panels to make dilapidated furniture as good as new.
Cane furniture has been popular for over 300 years, and many traditionally worked chairs still survive today. Old canework is often expensive. However, attractive antiques can still be purchased relatively cheaply if the cane seat has sagged and broken.
Restoring such chairs to their former light and delicate style is immensely satisfying, and creating the intricate-looking patterns is just a matter of technique and patience. Check that the piece to re-cane was traditionally worked with the cam- anchored in holes. Some modern pieces use sheets of cane, stapled in place.
What is a cane?
The material used to cane furniture is harvested from a creeper grown in South East Asia. It has a tough outer bark which, when peeled away, reveals an inner core coated in a tough, shiny layer. This layer is stripped from the core and cut into standard widths; which is used for furniture caning.
The widths of cane are numbered from 1-6. No 1 is the smallest, measuring 1. 7mm, and No 6 is the largest at 3.5mm. When buying cane to renovate a chair, try to select the same size of cane as was used for the original seat. As a general rule, the smaller and closer the holes of your seat, the smaller size cane you will need to use. The most commonly used sizes are No 4 for the seat, No 0 for the beading that finishes the edge of the seat and No 2 for the couching that stitches it down. Cane is available from all good craft shops, or from specialist suppliers by mail order. It is also available ready-woven.
You don’t need a lot of equipment for caning; most of the things you need can be found in the home. A craft knife for cutting cane the scissors cannot reach and for making sharp points on the pegs. A clearing tool for cleaning the boles. You can cut the end off an old screwdriver or use a large nail; the diameter should not be more than 1/8in (3mm) on a chair where the holes are 1/4tin (6mm) in diameter.
Plastic golf tees or wooden dowelling is essential for jamming the cane into the holes and holding the cane taut while weaving. Use dowelling, slightly larger than the holes, shaved to a point. A bodkin, shell bodkin or curved cane threader is useful to help weave the cane in and out if your fingers aren’t very nimble.